Leishmaniasis In Spanish Water Dogs Explained

In general, the Spanish Water Dog is a healthy, robust breed but like all other dogs, they can suffer from hereditary and acquired health issues one of which is a condition known as leishmaniasis. With more pet owners taking their canine companions abroad with them these days, it is all too easy for a dog to pick up some parasites and other bugs that are not found in the UK and leishmaniasis is caused by some of them. As such, it’s important to take the necessary precautions before travelling abroad with a dog and once there, to ensure they stay safe and well away from any dangers that may be lurking around.

The causes

Leishmaniasis can affect a dog's skin and/or their internal organs, as such they are 2 types of the disorder, namely cutaneous and visceral. Each one is caused by a different parasite and can affect specific parts of a dog's body. The parasite responsible is actually transmitted by sandflies which are found in many regions of the world including Southern Europe, South and Central America as well as Asia.

The parasite can lay dormant for months or even years once it has been transmitted to a Spanish Water Spaniel (or other breed) which, in short, means the incubation period is long and therefore a dog may have been infected, yet they show no signs of there being anything wrong for a very long time. The parasite can spread throughout a dog's internal organs causing a lot of damage and this includes to a dog’s kidneys which can result in total renal failure and death.

Signs to watch out for

There are specific signs to watch out for that a dog may have been infected by the parasites and these are as follows:

  • Alopecia, ulceration of the skin causing lesions
  • Lymphadenopathy
  • Conjunctivitis
  • Uveitis
  • Splenomegaly
  • Loss of weight and condition
  • Fever

Diagnosing the problem

A vet would want to know which countries were visited and would also need to have a Spanish Water Dog's full medical history before carrying out the following tests on a dog suspected of suffering from the condition. These tests include the following:

  • Cytology/Histopathy samples
  • Testing for antibodies - a dog suffering from leishmaniasis would have high levels in their system
  • PCR - polymerase chain reaction
  • DNA test to establish levels of parasite

Inoculating a SWD against leishmaniasis

Fortunately, there is now a vaccine available which provides dogs with effective protection against being infecting by the parasites responsible for transmitting the infection. It involves a course of injections which are administered to a dog at 3-week intervals after which time a simple annual booster is needed for them to maintain a defence against infection. However, it is worth noting that even vaccinated dogs are still at risk of being infected because although the vaccine is effective, it is not 100%.

Taking the right precautions

Any owner who wants to take their Spanish Water Dog abroad with them to a country that is known to have sandflies which could transmit the infection therefore putting a dog at risk, should take all the necessary precautions well in advance of their departure to ensure their pet is as protected as possible. Prospective owners who are thinking about importing a SWD puppy or adult dog from abroad should also ask breeders whether they have been inoculated against leishmaniasis before committing to buying a dog from them and to see the relevant paperwork proving so.

With this said and as previously mentioned, it is also wise to limit a dog's exposure to sandflies because although vaccinated, they could still pick up the damaging parasites though the risk is greatly reduced. Any dog that has suffered from the condition should be blood tested annually to establish the levels of leishmaniasis antibodies in their blood.


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